They turned up around Halloween, as a roaring storm gripped the wetlands of Northern Ireland and tilled its ground: human bones, sticking up from the tea-colored water in Bellaghy bog, halfway between Derry and Belfast.

The skeletal remains were disconcerting enough. Then investigators saw the flesh.

“The skin was as pink as ours,” said Detective Inspector Nikki Deehan, with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

We know now that the remains — extraordinarily well preserved — belonged to a teenage boy from the Iron Age, held together for thousands of years by the preservative power of the peat bog. But in the weeks before radiocarbon dating rendered the find an archaeological triumph, investigators wrestled with a more uncomfortable possibility: Was the body an echo of not-so-distant history, one with which the small island has yet to fully reckon?

Such is the pallor of grisly discoveries in Northern Ireland. In them is an ominous reminder, one unique to the region’s fragile peace: Ghosts — and bodies — don’t stay buried forever.

Illustrations of that dark reality are everywhere, including in recent, geographically close history. When the Bellaghy bog man first rose from the ground in October, investigators were searching other bogs for other secrets, in the wetlands of County Monaghan. There, a disturbing parallel story bore out, when a much-anticipated search for a different body was abandoned in mid-November.


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